Murder witness gets 18 months for possession of pistol

Defendant had gun for protection, court hears

A witness who acquired a gun for protection after giving evidence in a murder trial was sentenced Tuesday to 18 months in prison for possessing an unlicensed firearm.

Justin Alvin Ebanks, 22, was subject to the mandatory minimum sentence of seven years after pleading guilty to possessing an unlicensed Beretta semi-automatic pistol and three rounds of .25 ammunition on Jan. 30, 2016.

Defense attorney John Furniss submitted that there were exceptional circumstances that Justice Charles Quin should consider and then reduce the sentence. He said Ebanks gave “material and compelling” evidence in the trial of Justin Ramoon and Osbourne Douglas. After trial in April this year, both men were found guilty of murdering Jason Powery on the night of July 1, 2015.

Threats received

The fatal shooting took place in the vicinity of the Globe Bar, off Shedden Road. Although there were upward of 15 people in the area at the time, only Ebanks and one other man came forward as witnesses. Ebanks received threats before and after the trial, Mr. Furniss pointed out.

Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Patrick Moran shared U.K. case law setting out the principle that possession of a prohibited firearm for the purpose of self-defense cannot amount to exceptional circumstances, no matter how serious or significant the perceived threat may be.

Justice Quin commented, “There has been a marked increase in serious gun crimes in the Cayman Islands over the last seven years, which has led to the loss of the lives of many young Caymanians and, further, has led to many businesses being subject to very serious armed robberies in which unlicensed firearms were employed. It would not be an understatement to say that guns have become a curse here in the Cayman Islands – leading to so much untold grief and anguish.”

‘Major threat to security’

Justice Quin said he wanted to make it clear that possession of an unlicensed firearm for self-defense or defense of others cannot amount to exceptional circumstances. “If the court were to decide otherwise, such a decision would inevitably lead to the further breakdown of law and order. The possession of illegal firearms is a major threat to the security of society in the Cayman Islands and can never be tolerated,” he declared.

“What is absolutely vital is for the community to assist police in identifying, apprehending and bringing to justice persons who are in possession of … unlicensed firearms or indeed any information in relation to unlicensed firearms and their locations.”

He then addressed the question of Ebanks’s assistance to police. U.K. cases indicate that an offender who assists by giving information that leads to the apprehension or conviction of other offenders can expect a discount from his own sentence. The amount of discount would depend on the quality of the material disclosed, its accuracy, the willingness to confront other criminals or give evidence against them The normal discount could be one-half to two thirds. Only in the most exceptional circumstances would it exceed three-quarters.

The English Court of Appeal stated that the judge must tailor the sentence so as to punish the defendant for his own offending, but also reward him as far as possible for the help he has given “in order to demonstrate to offenders that it was worth their while to disclose the criminal activities of others for the benefit of the law-abiding public in general.”

Justice Quin agreed with Mr. Furniss that Ebanks’s determination and continued resolve to give evidence in the murder trial was a vital development in Cayman because many high-profile trials had been unable to proceed as a result of witnesses refusing to give evidence even though they had given statements to police.

He quoted a police inspector who described Ebanks as a crucial witness who went into the witness stand in spite of exceptional pressure and showed “incredible courage and honesty.”

Taking all these factors into consideration plus Ebanks’s early guilty plea, only one previous conviction and good references from his employer, Justice Quin arrived at a sentence of 18 months.

Time in custody will count. The judge said he hoped Ebanks would be released shortly and get back to work. “Your assistance was commendable,” he told the young man.